Planet Earth should be treated like a family member or a friend - and shown kindness and respect. This is one of the recommendations of a children's and young people's assembly in Ireland, whose members have been thinking about how best to respond to species extinction on the Emerald Isle.
Conceived by and for children and young people, the assembly had gathered 35 randomly selected members aged 7 to 17 from all over Ireland. The assembly members delivered their recommendations to the Minister for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan, at Killarney National Park on 25 October 2022. The list of recommendations includes six key messages:
- We must treat the Earth as we treat our family and friends, and give it the right to be treated with kindness and respect.
- Future generations must live in a world where there is no crisis and where children do not have to take action because of the inability of previous generations.
- Biodiversity must be taken into account in every decision.
- Children and young people must be involved in decisions that affect biodiversity;
- Protecting biodiversity must be a shared responsibility and a global, collaborative effort.
- We must consume resources in a sustainable, measured way that does not harm the environment/biodiversity or our rights, well-being and livelihoods.
58 recommendations in total
In total, the assembly participants formulated 58 recommendations in seven thematic areas, including education and awareness raising, governance, restoration and reforestation, habitat and species conservation, energy and transport, overexploitation, and waste and consumption.
Minister Noonan paid tribute to the participants. "The work you have done is unique and so important to us in helping to shape our future ... your recommendations will help to inform strong policies for nature protection and restoration so that you can see nature thrive again. I know that there is a big job of work to do, and I feel the responsibility of it," he said.
A say for youngest citizens
The Children and Young Peoples' Assembly complements the work of the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity, which has been meeting since April 2022. The assembly aims to ensure that Ireland's youngest citizens have a say in how Ireland responds to the challenge of biodiversity loss.
For the assembly, 35 children and young people had been randomly selected from those who had applied to take part. Those who did not want to participate could contribute to the project with statements, artwork, pictures and videos.
"We have lots of interesting things to say"
"I think it’s important that children and young people like us can have our say because we don’t usually get to be involved in things that adults do, and we have lots of interesting things to say,” said eight-year-old citizens' assembly advisor Elsie from Tipperary County at the launch of the Children and Young People's Citizens' Assembly.
The General Secretary of the Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity, Art O'Leary, had invited the participants of the Children and Young People's Assembly to present their recommendations at the next citizens' assembly meeting in early November. A delegation of the Children's and Young People's Assembly accepted this invitation on 5/6 November 2022. The outcomes of both citizens' assemblies will feed into Ireland's next National Biodiversity Action Plan.
Nature walks and outdoor activities
The process of the Children's and Young People's Citizens' Assembly followed the usual procedure for randomly selected citizens' assemblies, with a learning phase, a discussion phase and a decision-making phase. Facilitators ensured that all voices and views were captured. The assembly programme included nature walks and outdoor activities in Wicklow and Killarney National Parks.
To ensure that the assembly was responsive to children and young people, the project was designed by an intergenerational team comprising a young advisor team and a group of independent researchers. The young advisory team consisted of nine children and young people from across Ireland, aged 8 to 16. The research team included experts in child participation, deliberative democracy and biodiversity from Dublin City University, University College Cork and terre des hommes, an international organisation focusing on children's environmental rights.
The team's leader, Dr Diarmuid Torney of Dublin City University, said Ireland had built a strong reputation over the past decade for including the voices of adult populations in policy-making through citizens' assemblies.
"But to date our citizens’ assemblies have not included the voices of children and young people. It has been inspiring to work with the children and young people participating in this unique process to enable them to learn more about biodiversity loss and formulate their calls to action,” he said.
Role model Scotland
The model for the Children and Youth Citizens Assembly in Ireland is the collaboration of the 2021 Scottish Climate Assembly with the Scottish Children's Parliament. A good 100 children from all over Scotland took part in the Children's Parliament's research for the Climate Assembly and spent five months learning the facts about climate change. They shared opinions and ideas on what Scotland should do to tackle the climate emergency declared by the government in 2019. The Children's Parliament's proposals sat alongside those of the Adult Climate Assembly in the Citizens' Report.
Katie Reid, a member of the Irish Children and Young People's Citizens' Assembly Research Group and Environmental Rights and Children's Participation Officer at terre des hommes, had supported children's participation in the Scottish Climate Citizens' Assembly at the time. "I experienced how deliberative democratic processes can be enriched by taking an intergenerational approach that includes our youngest citizens’ views and ideas," said Reid.